Beginners Guide: How to Use Google Analytics

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Google Analytics provides users with a wealth of data, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. We show you how to use Google Analytics to create an easy-to-implement action plan.

Google Analytics (GA) is an incredibly powerful tool for website owners. The amount of useful data you get from it is exceptional — and it’s all free.

SEO experts and professional marketers of all stripes recognise the importance of Google Analytics as a traffic management and tracking tool, but it can be confusing to those just starting out.

In many ways, it’s the sheer volume of statistics and data that make it hard for novices to come to terms with what can be done with Google Analytics. It often feels like you’re only scratching the surface when you’re learning.

Finding actionable data, creating an action plan to move forward and just generally learning how to better use Google Analytics can make the difference between understanding how well your website and marketing is working, and flying blind. And ask any pilot or driver how important it is to know where you are and where you’re going, and you can see why understanding GA is top of the list for many business owners.

How to Use Google Analytics Step 1: Understanding The Key Metrics

Google Analytics presents you with dozens of metrics, through which your website traffic, usability and performance are measured. Properly understanding these metrics will put you in a better position to create a list of actions you can take to improve your site to increase your traffic, sales and, by extension, profit.

To begin with, we recommend focusing on a handful of key statistics. These are the 20% that bring 80% of the insight. Learning how they work and what they mean is the first step. Over time, you’ll be able to broaden your analysis to include others, but this “quick-start guide” will get you started.

In general, if your website is aimed at lead generation or direct sales, you should focus on the following key metrics:

  • Sessions
  • Session Duration
  • Bounce Rate
  • Conversion Rate
  • Number of Conversions
  • Performance by device

In part 1 of our 5-step Google Analytics Tutorial series, Tim explains some of the key metrics:

How to Shortcut the Learning Process

Because Google Analytics can feel overwhelming, we built a free tool called Onalytics. It not only explains the importance of key metrics, but it also compares your website’s scores against others in your industry and then gives you actionable insights based on your data to improve your website’s performance.

Simply connect your Google Analytics account by following the instructions and Onalytics will reveal the hidden profit blockers on your website and help you to address them.

What Do the Key Google Analytics Metrics Mean and How Do You Use Them?

It can feel like you’ve got a mountain to climb when faced with the technical language and complex figures that Google Analytics throws at you. Even the definitions of each metric can feel confusing!

Here are our plain-English Ninja definitions for each of the key metrics we suggest you start looking at:

Sessions

This is the number of visits to your website. These might be from unique users (where a person arrives on your site and has never visited before) or from returning visitors. Every session is recorded in 30-minute intervals — if a user leaves for 30 minutes and then comes back, it will count as a new session. If the same user leaves your website and returns before those 30 minutes are up, GA won’t count this as a new session, but it’ll instead be considered as part of the original session.

Session Duration

Session duration is the average amount of time a visitor is active on your website. It takes into account how long a visitor stays active on your website, regardless of how many pages they visit. As an example, two visitors may each spend 20 minutes on your website, but while one is spending it on only a couple of pages— watching a video series or webinar, for instance — the second user is spending that time browsing multiple pages and doing product research. Session duration should not be confused with time on page, which calculates how long a website visitor stayed on an individual page. The average session duration is calculated by dividing the total duration of all sessions (in seconds) by the total number of sessions.

One important thing to note here is that if a visitor “bounces” (see Bounce Rate below), their session duration is recorded as 0 seconds. That visitor might have spent three hours reading your in-depth blog post, for example, but if they leave before triggering another event or going to another page, their session duration will be recorded as zero.

Bounce Rate

Google Analytics registers a bounce when a visitor to your website leaves after only viewing the first page they landed on without viewing any other pages or triggering any other events. A bounce rate, then, is the number of single-page sessions divided by the total number of sessions, and is expressed as a percentage.

For more information about bounce rate, check out our other guides: What Is a Good Bounce Rate? and What Does Bounce Rate Mean?

Conversion Rate

A conversion happens when a website visitor completes an action that you want them to complete and that you’ve set up tracking for in Google Analytics.

When setting up conversions, it’s important that your chosen actions are related to your business goals — you don’t want to be tracking certain page views as a conversion, for example, as this won’t directly influence your ROI. Conversions may be primary, such as purchasing a product, or secondary, like subscribing to your newsletter. As you’d expect, the number of conversions is the total amount of conversions in a specific period (such as over the month or year), while the conversion rate is the percentage of visitors out of all traffic who perform this desired action.

Part 2 of our 5-part Google Analytics Tutorial series explains more about conversion rate:

Performance by Device

Google Analytics is an incredibly useful tool in many ways, but one of its best features it that it allows you to dig deep into user behaviour. It lets you see exactly how many sessions originated from a smartphone, desktop or tablet device. This means you can compare users who visit your website from different devices and measure how each performs, which gives you valuable insight into the user experience you’re delivering. If, for example, 75% of your visitors browse your site from a smartphone, but these users are bouncing more than on any other devices, it’s worth making sure your website is optimised for mobile and easily navigable.

How Do You Know if a Particular Metric Is Good or Bad?

Every website is different, so what is a good score for your website may well be a disaster for another site. That’s why Onalytics compares your website data with competitors in your industry to give you a reliable benchmark.

Of course, another important way to manage your metrics is by tracking.
If you have a grasp of conversion rate, for example, you could make tweaks to your site over time and measure how those tweaks appear to have affected your conversion rate figures.

The obvious difficulty at this point is that increases or decreases in any metric are not always due to any single change you make in isolation — it’s the product of many different factors, trends and shifts, meaning that learning by tracking might not be as straightforward as it first seems.

Furthermore, it takes a long time to learn in this way. It’s definitely useful to pay attention to the ebb and flow of your Google Analytics data, but doing things in this manner will allow you to create an action plan in a few month’s time at best — not right now.

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Key Issues to Look out for in Google Analytics

Every website and market is different, so if your website doesn’t perfectly match up to a specific “industry-standard” metric, it’s not necessarily the be all and end all. That being said, there are a few key patterns that indicate when there might be an issue with your website’s performance. Let’s look at these, along with the tell-tale signs you should watch out for:

How to Tell if Your Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly

There are several indications that your website may not be mobile friendly, and the first is a high bounce rate on mobile devices. This might mean your images are taking up the entire space, your text is difficult to read, or that your mobile menu isn’t even accessible. If users can’t easily browse your website on mobile, they’ll do one thing — leave.

While mobile traffic tends to have lower conversion rates than desktop traffic, if you’re seeing a significantly lower mobile conversion rate compared to desktop or tablet, this also indicates that something might be up. What’s a “significantly lower” conversion rate on mobile? It obviously depends on the site and traffic, but to give a very broad guide, if your mobile conversion rate is lower than two-thirds of your desktop conversion rate, there is usually some fairly low-hanging fruit to be had.

If you want to look at your website’s mobile friendliness through a more technical scope, you can run it through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool. This looks at a variety of factors and shows you exactly how your page appears to mobile users, along with any issues — such as slow site speed or pages that do not load properly — and what you can do to fix them.

How to Tell if Your Website Is Getting Too Little Traffic

The number of sessions you’re getting is a strong indication of whether you are attracting enough traffic to hit your business goals. In order to have a clearer picture, you should look at the industry average and compare your progress. You might be happy with 500 weekly sessions, but this may turn out to be at the lower end of your industry’s benchmark.

If you have a weekly sales or lead goal, you can calculate how much traffic you need to hit this by dividing the number of sessions by your conversion rate. For example, let’s imagine that Ninja Clothing Co wants to generate 200 sales per week. From Google Analytics, they can see that their eCommerce conversion rate is 2.5% (i.e. 2.5% of website visits turn into purchases).

Doing the maths, 200 / 0.025 = 8,000 visits. So, in order to hit their sales goal, Ninja Clothing Co needs to get an average of 8,000 sessions per week.

If you’re still concerned about your traffic levels, consider the following:

How many sessions versus new sessions are you getting? — Google Analytics records sessions (every user who visits your website, regardless of whether they’re visiting your site for the first or seventeenth time) and unique visits. Your unique visits can be used to determine how many new visitors are coming to your site. If you’re seeing a lot of new visitors during the month, this can mean increased brand awareness and that your website is reaching a wider audience. If these aren’t converting just yet, it may just be that they’re not far enough in the buyer’s’ journey to click that “buy” button. Perhaps presenting new visitors with a compelling lead magnet, voucher code, or some other enticement to take the plunge could help you monetise this new traffic more effectively.

On the other hand, if you’re seeing that the majority of your sessions are coming from returning users, this is a positive sign that your visitors are genuinely interested in your content and products or services.

Could it be seasonal? — If you’re concerned about your numbers, the first thing to rule out is whether this is normal behaviour. Some industries will naturally experience fluctuation throughout the year. Gardeners, for instance, will typically see reduced traffic during the colder months, while retail businesses can get more traffic and sales in the months surrounding Christmas than they do the rest of the year. You know your industry best, so you’ll know if it’s typically a quieter period, so compare your data over the year to see if seasonality might be the culprit. It’s also important to remember that sometimes this is just out of your control — sporting events and even warm weather (remember that heatwave?) can all affect buyers’ habits — if your target market is out enjoying the sun with a cold drink in hand, they’re likely not going to be browsing for electric blankets.

How many of these visitors are converting? — Ultimately, the number of visitors coming to your website is only significant in relation to how many of those people are actually converting. You might be attracting 500 visitors a month and have 100 of those converting, but you’re still in a better position than the competitor that’s reporting 2,000 visits and just 50 conversions. Of course, the goal is to increase traffic and conversions, which makes it even more important to make sure you’re honing in on the right people, or else you risk attracting a heap of unqualified traffic and turning off your loyal — and paying — visitors.

For an overview of how to read the traffic section of Google Analytics, watch this video:

How to Tell if Your Website Is Turning off Visitors

Nothing turns off website visitors more than a bad user experience. Slow load times, ugly or confusing layouts, and not giving the user what they expect are the main offenders here. When you’ve ruled out any technical issues, such as broken images and 404 pages, it’s time to look a bit deeper. Whether you’re running a Google Ads campaign or relying on Organic traffic, you need to make sure you’re meeting users’ expectations.

If a user does a search for “green crocs”, it’s pretty obvious what they’re looking for. You might decide you want to attract some of this traffic to funnel through your site, so you make it clear in your page title and meta description that your page is a perfect fit for the user. This visitor decides to click on your link and arrives on your website, only to find a pair of unicorn boots. Nice, but it’s not what the user’s looking for, so they’re going to bounce straight back to Google. What this means for you are high bounce rates, few pages per session and a low session duration. These are tell-tale signs that your website is turning off visitors, so make sure that every page serves a purpose and that this is clearly communicated to the user, because you never know where they’re going to enter your site.

A productive exercise to run is to look at every key page of your website with ‘fresh eyes’ and ask three questions:

  1. Is it immediately obvious what this page is about, even if I had no prior knowledge of the business?
  2. Is it obvious why I should choose this website over any of the other thousands on Google?
  3. Is it obvious what I am supposed to do next?

A common “conversion killer” is requiring prior knowledge for a subpage to answer the questions above.

Remember that visitors can enter your site through ANY page, so each page needs to be able to act as a standalone landing page and answer the above three questions. If the design of your website imagines all visitors coming in through the homepage and working their way logically through, this idealistic view is likely to result in your subpages underperforming.

How to Tell if Your Blog Is a Waste of Time

When executed properly, your blog is a priceless tool, capable of building trust, pushing people to convert and increasing your Google rankings. But how can you find out if your blog strategy is working?

In Google Analytics, go to Behaviour > Landing Pages. This will tell you the pages that the majority of your traffic is entering your website (or landing) on. We’d always expect your homepage and product pages to be the biggest traffic drivers — and it’s a good thing if your commercial pages are drawing a lot of traffic. However, if none of your blog posts are making that list, you’re missing out on some huge potential.

Each of your blog posts should have a specific purpose in mind and target a unique query that your audience has and needs an answer to. If traffic is landing on these pages, look at how visitors are engaging with the page. Are people spending enough time on the page, or are they getting distracted? Does it have a solid Call to Action that keeps users on site and tells them exactly what they need to do next, or are your visitors simply getting the answer that they need and then going elsewhere?

It’s entirely possible — and worth the effort — to create an action plan to turn a poorly performing blog around. Start by going back to the drawing board and revisiting your audience persona. Put yourself in their shoes and start asking yourself what questions they’re asking — if you have a customer service team, ask them; they’re a goldmine of burning customer concerns — and start writing content that is relevant and in a tone of voice that resonates with them.

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How to Tell if Your CTAs Aren’t Appealing Enough

The Call to Action (CTA) is one of the most vital but often neglected elements of a page. Visitors want to be told exactly what they need to do, how to do it, how long it’s going to take and what they get out of it. As humans, we get easily distracted by all manner of things happening around us. As such, we have to have our hands held throughout the process, otherwise, we quickly get our heads turned by other shiny things on the internet, on our screens, or around us.

A clear indication that your CTA isn’t appealing enough is if you are seeing healthy traffic and engagement but a low conversion rate. In this case, it’s worth testing different Calls to Action — such as changing what you’re offering to visitors in exchange for their contact details, or moving the CTA further up the page so that it’s visible “above the fold” (that section a visitor sees as soon as they land on your website, without having to scroll down the page). It may take some trial and error, but it’s a vital part of the process to find the ideal format that’s going to get those online sales or newsletter sign-ups pouring in. The right CTA can be a game changer for your website’s performance.

Consider the two Calls to Action below:

call-to-action text in red background

call-to-action text with green button at the bottom

The first simply encourages visitors to get in touch if they’re interested. The risk is 100% on the visitor: what if the company doesn’t do my sort of work? I don’t know anything about them; will someone try to sell me something immediately? What will happen?

The second CTA offers something free (lowering the perceived risk) and answers a common objection (is my project too small?). This CTA actually sits at the bottom of a full page detailing exactly what happens in this free pre-planning and feasibility consultation.

The performance difference between these types of CTA is significant.

Let Onalytics Create an Action Plan for You

Onalytics is a free tool that we built to provide you with a breakdown of exactly how your site performs using the Google Analytics metrics mentioned above and more. We compare your data to your competitors and give you a website performance score, as well as a suggested list of priority actions, such as which metrics need the most urgent attention.

We convert Google Analytics metrics into plain-English language so that you can see where your website is strong and where it needs work. There’s no jargon — just simple and actionable advice based on stats that we have years of experience of analysing.

All you need to do is connect your Analytics account, tell us a bit about your business (so that we can benchmark your results against your competitors), and let Onalytics provide your bespoke report.

What Does an Onalytics Action Plan Look Like?

We grade your website on six key factors:

  1. Analytics Set-Up — Is your Google Analytics tracking code installed and is data pulling through at expected levels?
  2. Website Performance — How do your bounce rate, conversion rate, average session duration and average pages per session stack up against your competitors?
  3. Search Traffic — How does your average monthly search traffic compare to that of your competitors?
  4. PPC Traffic — Can you better optimise your Pay Per Click strategy (hint: you always can) and how?
  5. Social Media Traffic — Are your social channels linked in a clear and engaging way? How does your social media traffic compare to those you are competing with?
  6. Mobile Performance — How do your bounce rate, conversion rate and pages per session measure up when looking specifically at mobile visits?

Every score you receive will fall into one of three categories: “Good”, “Okay” or “Poor”, based on your performance compared to your competitors. We also let you know whether or not a particular area is a high or low priority, allowing you to create an action plan moving forward.

result of website test shown in percentage

Do you want to create a simple action plan to increase traffic to your website? Get our clear and insightful recommendations by getting your website graded today — it takes less than 30 seconds.

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